Passing the Scientific Baton to the Next Generation

Amazing things can happen when you give budding researchers the support and freedom to explore problems in unexpected ways.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

What would happen if a research program not only combined world-class interdisciplinary faculty, but also a healthy allotment of scholarships and fellowships for emerging researchers?

The Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program at York University includes over 200 trainees, all working towards a deeper understanding of both biological and computer vision. And over 90 of them are supported through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, allowing trainees to focus on their work instead of on financial struggles.

“Vision science is like a relay race, from the past to the future,” says VISTA’s Science Director Doug Crawford.

“So for a trainee coming here, you have the opportunity to have an internationally-renowned scientist as your supervisor and then have advisors or collaborators from perhaps the same area, or completely different areas of research.”

That interdisciplinary lens helps VISTA’s researchers come up with unique ways to approach problems.

“VISTA has actually fulfilled my dream of working in a multi-disciplinary environment,” says Nizwa Javed, PhD student at the Lassonde School of Engineering.

“So I get the chance of exploring problems and looking at it from different perspectives and then coming up with creative solutions, which I feel is one of the most important parts of being a good researcher.”

Beyond creativity, collaborations between researchers with different academic and life experiences also helps people keep an open mind.

“One of the great things about VISTA and the people I’ve encountered within it is the open mindedness to different experiences,” says Sarah Volmer, PhD student at York University’s Arts, Media, Performance and Design program.

“VISTA is also working with me in a project that is joint lab-to-market, and so we look at translating some of the technology I’m working on in ways that can be released to the public.”

“My fellow trainees come from a lot of different backgrounds,” adds Zoha Ahmad, Master’s Student at York University’s Faculty of Health.

“I come from a biology background, my PI (principal investigator) works in cognitive psychology, and we also bring in a lot of different computer science programs. And what’s really exciting to me is that they can help me with stuff that I don’t know about, and I can help them with stuff they don’t know about, and VISTA allows us to do that.”

VISTA also keeps close ties to industry, which helps trainees get the skills they need to work outside academia if that’s the path they choose after finishing their programs.

“At VISTA there are many training opportunities. We have lots of industry partners,” says Shanaa Modchalingam, PhD student at York University’s Faculty of Health.

“So we have amazing opportunities to have internships and the like, and build skills that they can take with them post-academia.”

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